Novak Consulting Group is recommending four-dozen changes to Purcellville’s government operations following a months-long audit.
The group on Monday night presented the Town Council with the findings of its operational audit, which cost the town $69,800, took about four months to complete. It includes 48 recommendations aimed at improving town policies, procedures, staffing levels and management practices across all departments, except the Police Department.
The firm hosted two community meetings, met with nearly 50 staff members and held 21 individual interviews and eight focus group sessions. “There was a lot of conversation that we had with staff throughout this process,” said Michelle Ferguson, an organizational assessment practice leader with Novak.
On the policy end, the firm is recommending that the town establish a formal protocol for communication between council and staff members so that discussions aren’t misinterpreted as directions.
It’s also recommending that the town conduct a compensation study and amend its Town Charter and Code to reflect practices that are currently inconsistent with those documents. Although the charter makes the Town Council responsible for appointing a treasurer, commissioner of revenue and zoning administrator, the town manager has historically appointed and supervised those positions. The town manager also appoints the town attorney, even though the Town Code gives the council that responsibility.
One of the more timely departmental recommendation is the firm’s suggestion that the town conduct a utility rate study—something many residents are asking for, since they’re concerned about potential increases in utility rates beginning next year.
According to the report, Purcellville has the highest residential wastewater rate among nearby towns, at $53.07 for 3,000 gallons per month. The next highest rates among Loudoun towns for that amount of monthly usage are Middleburg at $49.92 and Lovettsville at $41.75.
In the Administrative Department, the firm recommends that the town create an administrative assistant position to support the town clerk, town manager and town attorney. That position could pay $68,600 annually and would be responsible for tasks like recording minutes at council meetings.
In the Finance Department, the firm recommends that the town make the part-time budget specialist and procurement specialist positions full time or simply create one full-time financial analyst position to handle the responsibilities of both roles. While making both positions full time would cost $111,600 annually, creation of the financial analyst position would cost the town $82,500 annually.
In the Parks and Recreation Department, the firm recommends that the town make the division manager and event specialist positions full time to better manage projects and maintain a high level of service, which could amount to $92,000 annually.
The firm is also recommending that the town create a few more committees. While a Technology Advisory Committee would help the IT department evaluate technological needs, a Capital Review Committee would help Town Manager David Mekarski review the Capital Improvement Program and an IT Budget Review Committee would help him review the IT budget.
The firm also recommends that the public works department hire an independent contractor for mowing services, finding that maintenance staff spent 598 hours mowing 16.16 acres and utility staff spent about 486 hours mowing between July 2017 and July 2018. Novak estimates that hiring a contractor could equate to one part-time position.
Overall, the firm found that staff is dedicated, engaged and trained well enough to take on additional tasks when needed. “I’m very, very pleased with the report,” Mekarski said.
Moving forward, Novak will provide the town with an implementation plan for the recommendations. Ferguson urged council members to be patient with and work through the report with staff. “All 48 recommendations can’t happen tomorrow,” she said. “They have to be carefully integrated into ongoing work.”
When Mayor Kwasi Fraser asked where the town should start when considering implementation, Ferguson said the first priority is for the Town Council to update its strategic plan. “That really is the most important thing to help set direction for the organization,” she said.